B.C. Ferries crew launched a rescue boat to help a boat in distress outside Tsawwassen on Thursday night. (KENT HEGGART photo)

Nanaimo-bound ferry responds to flares, assists boaters in distress

Incident happened outside Tsawwassen on Thursday night

A ferry responded to distress flares and helped a boat return safely to port on rough seas last night.

The Queen of Alberni sailing from Tsawwassen to Nanaimo circled back to help a family on a boat that had lost power, a witness said.

Kent Heggart said about half an hour after the ferry left Tsawwassen, passengers spotted flares and alerted crew. The ferry had already passed the boat in distress, but doubled back.

“They shone the spotlights, found the boat,” Heggart said. “I don’t know how they found the boat, because they had lost all electrical power, so basically their navigation system and all the electricity was out.”

He said two ferries crew members piloted a zodiac to meet the 38-foot boat and the family, and stayed until a Canadian Coast Guard hovercraft was able to escort the boat, which still had fuel, to port.

Heggart suggested the operation was made more dramatic due to the rough seas.

“The zodiac had taken on so much water that their pump couldn’t keep up and the boys were soaked,” he said.

Heggart said the ferry had left Tsawwassen 30 minutes after its scheduled 8:15 p.m. departure.

“Maybe it was a good thing we were late. Some things happen for a reason,” he said.

He said crew provided regular updates, and at one point the captain announced free hot chocolate and coffee for everybody, “which of course everybody gladly took.”

Heggart said passengers cheered the rescue and were proud to have been a small part of it, and didn’t mind B.C. Ferries getting them back to Nanaimo far behind schedule.

“It didn’t matter…” he said. “Who else was going to help these people? It was a beautiful thing to see.”

A service notice from the ferry corporation late Thursday night noted that the Queen of Alberni was 115 minutes behind schedule “due to assisting a vessel in distress in conjunction with the coast guard.”

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